Fempreneur Pitch Night

 In a bid to select participants, Innovation SL posted a  CALL for applicants for the Freetown Pitch Night-fempreneur edition; with a star prize of $5,000, seven women were selected for the competition. Two-week prepping sessions were held in order to prepare them. During this time, they were given instructions on how they should showcase their ideas, to aid them with their pitch deck.

On the 26th of  April, 2023 the Freetown Pitch Night was held at the Limkokwing University, Hill Station, Freetown with the theme “FEMPRENEUR” (a platform where female entrepreneurs are given the opportunity to pitch their ideas and access seed funding). The event was hosted by  Ms. Margret Cassel and Ms.Francess Beresford- Renner. 

A keynote address was given by the company’s CEO/MD Mr. Francis Stevens-George who created a sense of purpose; in his speech, he stated the reason why Innovation SL partnered with Mercury International. Relatively, “for entrepreneurs to work we need a pipeline of ideas. To have new ideas to work we should have INVESTORS.” He further added that entrepreneurship has been the bedrock of development in Sierra Leone, for an entrepreneur to work there should be an ecosystem, for an ecosystem to work there should be a pipeline where new ideas as well as older ones strived. He emphasized that for both old and new ideas to strive there is a need for Investors, for that reason, there was a sense to appreciate Mr Martin  Michael, the MD of Mercury International, for deciding to collaborate with the Freetown pitch night by providing seed capital, especially for female entrepreneurs. Statistically, Sierra Leone has an estimate of 1.5 million women in the micro or small business sector and this sector accounts for 90% of the country’s economy. However these women have been struggling over the years to up-scale their businesses  because they lack funds and this is exactly why the fempreneur edition of Freetown Pitch night is a stitch in time.

Mr. Martin Michael explained that, since 2007 Mercury International has been involved in a wide variety of corporate social responsibilities by awarding scholarships to approximately 2000 students, providing abroad treatment for people with severe ailments and having built two schools.

Conversely, they were never introduced to such a platform wherein they could have the opportunity to aid entrepreneurs, which is why they had decided to partner with Innovation SL through the Freetown Pitch Night to provide a seed capital of $25,000 in total for five sessions of FPN and two out of the five sessions would be exclusively for female entrepreneurs. This is so because female entrepreneurs face the most challenges in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The emerging winner would help to alleviate poverty by creating job opportunities and payment of tax as that is what they are looking forward to. He left the stage thanking Mr. Stevens-George for the shared platform.

One of the hosts Ms. Francess Beresford-Renner ushered the panel of judges to introduce themselves and they were predominantly women, namely: Fatmata Sesay, John Wearing, Tafadzwa Chiganga, Waheed Awonuga and Mavis Madaure.

The pitch proper started immediately after the judges had introduced themselves and pitchers were reminded of the pitch’s rules which include the utilization of five minutes for presentation and two minutes for questions and answers, all summing up to seven minutes per pitcher.

The first pitcher for the night, Panashe Chikhata from Recycle2Skill, is a young hardworking and innovative female entrepreneur who has strong culinary and computer skills. She has been working with a team of four members; 3 female and 1 male that has the Practera programme, a programme that has been working with Seed Stars (an incubation company) in Switzerland. As a young female entrepreneur, she has a vision of empowering unskilled youths by providing them with skills at the cost of plastic waste. The business would have a positive impact: socially, economically and environmentally. This will help curb the problem of waste management and mitigate the issue of climate change.

The second pitcher Emily Kumba Fanday from ‘The Community’ has a peer-to-peer lending platform that has been allowing individuals or institutions to lend directly to borrowers in both formal and informal businesses. The community project was launched in 2022 having a population of 70 people; 30 female and 40 men. It has been seen as a viable market that provides loan services among institutions, businesses and individuals who are interested. Due to the huge market size, they have decided to have a low operation cost, minimal regulation, big data and technologies to streamline models. This is because they wanted to disrupt the system of how loans are given. To ensure the lender’s trust, the Community has a license of operations from the Bank of Sierra Leone which makes it reliable and secure. They had a business treat and control unit structure that would help lenders have better ROI.

The third pitcher was Mariama Bah from Rise Radio 96.3 FM who started by asserting that Climate change has been a global phenomenon caused by human activities primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. Burning fossil fuel generates greenhouse gas emissions that act like a blanket wrapped around the earth, trapping the sun’s heat and raising the temperature. Looking at the topography of Sierra Leone, there is a dire need to discuss the

causes, impacts and solutions of climate change. Due to the lack of awareness (no specified programme on climate change by radio station) there was a sense of massive deforestation in both rural and urban areas causing flooding and soil erosion nationwide. This has impeded the production of agricultural goods.  Rise radio has a dedicated 4 hours radio program that would be providing radio content and radio drama that would be deemed fit for climate change discourse.

The fourth pitcher was Lydia Bernard-Jones from ‘The Bridge’ who has proved to be a link between young Sierra Leoneans and the opportunities to get resources in order to maximize their potential.  There are many students in Sierra Leone who lacked the opportunities of having scholarships and they needed someone to cross the bridge, by creating a platform for scholarship opportunities ranging from secondary school to university and sharing links with peers and mentors in their field internationally. The bridge would provide prestigious and productive young people equipped with experience to be competitive in their careers. This would build a strong cohort of youths that would be equipped with the skills.

 The fifth pitcher Nippy Bah is the leader of ‘Mamie Coker. Mamie Coker’ has a project that ensures young people employment in Sierra Leone. It’s a team made up of 5 members; 3 females and 2 males experienced in code and web development. The project stemmed from the fact that a girl was in desperation to secure a job. Relatively, a platform called Mamie-Coker was created to connect clients with skilled and reliable workers. From the research that was conducted, approximately 100 people were asked about their pressing needs and what they were willing to pay for. 70% said they are willing to pay for skilled workers.  Such could be applicable by creating profiles for both businesses and prospective workers, connecting clients to workers or hiring workers on behalf of the client and monitoring until the job is done and encouraging feedback from both workers and clients. Using technological tools, it would improve access to service in various skilled service fields and also promote digital literacy in an efficient manner.

Fatmata Kargbo, the penultimate pitcher from Tamara Millennium company, expressed that their business vision is to empower underprivileged women by providing them with essential training to help them sustainably earn their daily income. She explained that their financial struggles are often caused by the lack of seed capital and knowledge on how to utilize it.

Therefore, there was a need to create Agro-forestry cooperation for these women to get training on crop practice which would increase production. They would be providing basic business management skills as well as bookkeeping while making sure that they would be weeding the seed bed and proper farm check-ups. Participatory field research was conducted; the research informed that, if they had been working with them it would have been better.

Ms Hawanatu Sesay, the final pitcher, co-founder of the Wi-AgricTech business which focused on designing Green and Smart farming technologies to improve and increase the quality of food products nationwide. In Sierra Leone, the males have outshone females when it comes to technology which is why she served as a bridge to connect more females in the tech world. That is why she focused on farming technologies to increase the production of crops. With these technologies, they would train over 500 farmers by 2025 for the cultivation of vegetables worth 1 ton annually. The io T plant monitoring device through a cloud-based technology via phone could detect soil fertility, plant growth and moisture level of the plant, it could take an automatic decision on behalf of an individual regarding water, light penetration and nutrient level. The technology has been highly secure, efficient and reliable.

Madam Isatu Harrison the CEO/founder of creative hub Africa and Izelia Fashion who was the guest speaker for the night, started her speech by explaining that she obviously did not wake up one day and got to where she is currently as she had to go through some rough patch and challenging times. Cleaning was her first business; she started with a mop and a bucket where she employed 10 people and had some others as part-timers. The cleaning business was successful as she had a Ghanaian woman who worked so hard to own part of the company. She later sold the business and pursued a hairdressing venture which she fancied; ended up selling the cleaning business and failed in the hairdressing saloon. She relentlessly moved over to being a seamstress as all she had left was a singer machine and some Ankara pieces, being a business person who has always had a knack for fashion she then ventured into the fashion industry with just a sewing machine and eventually developed the brand called Izelia, which is well known today for its signature gara tye fashion prints all over the entrepreneurial ecosystem. She finally encouraged young female entrepreneurs to use what they have until they can get what they need.

At the final phase of the event, the judges have presented gifts of appreciation on behalf of Innovation SL before declaring the winner. Certificates were presented to all the pitchers

respectively, starting from the rear. The judges unanimously declared “the Community ” led by Emily Kumba Fanday as the winner of the 2023 Freetown Pitch Night, fempreneur edition. The MD of mercury international, Mr. Martin Michaels presented the cheque of $500 as seed capital to the winner and the event was concluded with an atmosphere of excitement and high anticipation for the next edition of the Freetown Pitch Night slated for the 13th of  May 2023.    

 REPORTED BY- George Garber

EDITED BY- Francess Beresford-Renner

Turtle Pitch Night

Theme: Climate Change Adaptation Technologies-08.02.2023

The Turtle team is made up of Geraldine Dohogne and Estelle van Eeckhout, two female friends who have been close for 34 years and chose to go on an adventure that will influence and improve lives, particularly in Sierra Leone’s business ecosystem. 

In order to spread awareness and generate money for their endeavor, the turtle team participated in the BUDAPEST-BAMAKO rally 2022, the final big adventure in the world. The two buddies chose the moniker “TURTLE” for their team mostly in honor of the turtles in Sierra Leone and the turtles’ overall propensity for “slow but sure” racing. Every two years, people from all around the world can participate in the Budapest-Bamako rally and raise money for whatever they might wish to engage in.

The Budapest-Bamako Rally is an automobile event that spans eight (8) nations. The 2022 edition of the rally began in Labe, Guinea, and concluded with a welcome ceremony at Gigibonta Lumley in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on November 8, 2022. The Budapest-Bamako Rally provides all of its participants with a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment in addition to being a means of raising money. The turtle team traveled with such fortitude and concentration. Due to their punctuality, versatility, and liberality, the turtle squad went, saw, conquered, and won the hero of the bush honors after spending 11 nights camping and sleeping in tents around the eight countries in Africa. They decided it would be appropriate to help the entrepreneurial ecosystem by providing money for incubating and assisting budding entrepreneurs through innovation SL.

Following the selection process, Innovation SL posted a CALL for applicants to apply for this unique pitch night and began preparing. The preparation sessions lasted for two weeks, during which time the chosen pitchers received instruction on how to present their ideas as well as aid with the right organization of their pitch decks. 

On February 8, 2023, the Turtle Team pitch night was held after several days of planning and preparation.

The pitch night, which had the theme “CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION TECHNOLOGIES(CCAT),” was held at the Toma restaurant and was hosted by madam Emily Bah. The event began with an introduction and welcome speech from the company’s CEO/MD Mr. Francis Stevens George, who noted that while there are many successful entrepreneurs in the nation, the narratives have changed due to the influx of young people, primarily recent graduates, into the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Many of these young people view entrepreneurship as fulfilling because it allows them to be content with what they are doing and be creative while doing it. He then quickly clarified that the turtles are aware of this, but more importantly, they are also aware that there are other ecosystem actors who offer support and training to these aspiring business owners in order to shape the ecosystem and bring it to its full potential. For this reason, the team used sponsorship funds to support these entrepreneurs through Innovation SL.

He also explained to everyone in attendance that the pitch night was originally intended only for women, but due to the dearth of female participants, the team and the organization were forced to open the opportunity to both men and women. As a result, we have pitchers from both genders. Following that, Mr. Francis Stevens George called for Miss. Estelle Van Eeckhout, a member of the turtle team, gave a speech about the significance of the evening.

Miss Estelle explained to everyone in attendance that she and her teammate Geraldine came from entrepreneurial families and have always been interested in supporting young female entrepreneurs because they are the ones most impacted by global climate change. She continued by saying that being able to support these entrepreneurs at this time has been a dream come true and is incredibly satisfying.

Ms. Estelle then handed us off to her teammate and friend Miss Geraldine Dohogne, who was joining us virtually because she couldn’t make it to the event. She and her teammate, Ms. Estelle, had so much faith in Innovation SL that they begged the company to be their service provider. They believe that the company is a driving force of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. As an entrepreneur herself, Miss Dohonge expressed her enthusiasm and satisfaction at finding funding and supporting young businesspeople. She stayed with us practically for the remainder of the evening, thanking everyone for coming and wishing us all a nice evening.

The host, madam Emily Bah, then presented the judges, who are as follows: Her Excellency The Ambassador of Ireland to Sierra Leone, Claire Buckley, Estelle Van Eeckhout, Geraldine Dohogne Turtle teammate and entrepreneur, Natalia Abboud, CEO of the transnational DSTV Sierra Leone and Capital radio, and Madam Haja Mariama Myers, a business consultant, and entrepreneur.

The first speaker for the evening was Margret sia Gbamanja from the Salone Association of Innovation and Management, a company that offers auto mini-irrigation systems for small-scale farmers looking to provide an alternative watering system for farm-growing crops. The host went directly to the main event for the day, the pitch proper, by reminding the pitchers that they are only given five minutes to make their ideas known. The main issue they noticed was how climate change has affected everyone, including Sierra Leone, and as a result, farmers have resorted to just farming during the rainy season, contributing to a food deficit in the nation. Additionally, they try to find a solution for the manual effort that goes into watering crops because most farmers complain of pain, particularly waist problems, while they are conducting surveys. They also understand the difficulties that local farmers have using auto-smart irrigation because the majority of them are not lettered; as a result, their products are easy to use and reasonably priced for everyone.

She added that they are nearly finished with their prototype and are working on it right now. When she was through, she made sure to mention that the product’s secret is that it is superior to its rivals in that it is effective, straightforward, affordable, and supports local farmers.

The first of the two questions Margret received from the judges came from Miss Estelle, who inquired about the source of the water they planned to use for the irrigation system. Margret responded by stating that most farms are located close to wells, so that is where they intended to get their water.

The next query came from Miss Natalia, who was worried about the price of their kit because it wasn’t mentioned during the presentation. Margaret responded that she couldn’t give a specific figure because they were still in the planning stages and couldn’t ascertain the price at this time. As she left the pitch stage, the judges praised her for her poise and presentation abilities.

Every two minutes a child dies from malaria, yet mankind has joined together to find a solution, said Stephan Courtney Peterson, according to Mariama Saccoh, the second pitcher from the Global Malaria App. As a medical student, she always finds it upsetting when people wait in line for a malaria test at a hospital and are not attended to in a timely manner. With this background in mind, she and her team decided to create an application that would allow people all over the world to take a malaria test and receive their results in a flash.

The malaria app will be created for owners of Android and iOS smartphones with sensors because that’s how the app can scan and detect their blood cells in order for the findings to be shown. The app also aims to reduce the number of deaths caused by malaria since prompt diagnosis and treatment can avoid fatalities and because it links patients with healthcare providers and pharmacies.

Given that all malaria test kits are made of plastic, the invention also helps to prevent plastic pollution. Mariama explained that they will be employing an optical biochemical parameter sensor, which is dependable and capable of detecting the presence of plasmodium in cells, in response to the judges’ question on how the application can be trusted.

​​Mr. Tommy Sowa, the third pitcher, is the CEO and co-founder of Zest MK Investment, which focuses on creating an e-commerce application that would facilitate the delivery of medications to patients who have access to the application. Additionally, they offer medical care as well as a venue for pharmacists to market their goods and offer services to these patients.

Since they plan to use a few motorbikes to reach hundreds of people, they hope that by leveraging this E-commerce platform, both the death rate and ozone layer pollution will be reduced. The covid pandemic, Mr. Tommy Sowa further explained to the audience, was the inspiration for this idea. He discovered that many people died from a lack of prompt medical attention, but with e-commerce, no one will even need to risk traveling long distances with a sick person because all the facilities will be there to meet them in time at their doorsteps.

This will promote pharmacies around the neighborhood and give young people jobs. After that, the judges questioned Mr. Tommy Sowa about the anticipated payment plan for clients who would use their services. Mr. Sowa said that they would be going digital and using a local mobile money app.

The fourth pitcher, Christiana Lebbie, whose business idea is briquette coal, recalled a time when her mother had to make soup for her sick grandfather. However, because she was using charcoal, the process took three hours and was both time-consuming and unhealthy. This served as her inspiration to create briquette coal from farm waste.

As opposed to charcoal and firewood, briquette coal burns for a very long period before burning out, making cooking easier, simpler, and more inexpensive. Cooking with briquette coal is healthful since it doesn’t emit smoke, protecting women’s lungs, eyes, and other organs from sickness. The briquette coal also contributes significantly to climate change adaptation because, unlike other cooking techniques, it doesn’t release gasses into the atmosphere and also includes free fire starters. In order to reach as many clients as possible who will be able to use the briquette coal and live a better and healthier life, the briquette coal will target neighborhood merchants who offer “kol pot.” Since briquette coal can be produced without using trees, it will also encourage reforestation. 

Although the judges said they were in love with her idea, they also suggested that she go back to the drawing board and reduce the cost of her product by working with and partnering with other companies in the same field.

Fatmata Conteh from Sierra Plastbricks, whose company focuses on reducing plastic pollution and flood damage, was the fifth pitcher. Since 15000 people die yearly from flooding, most of whom live in slum areas, Sierra plastbricks produces plastic bricks that may be used as retaining walls and flood fences to help secure water-prone areas. This is done in an effort to lessen the impact of floods.

The Sierra Plastic Bricks also observed that during rainy seasons, the city becomes clogged and polluted with plastics and rubber; as a result, they are recycling these materials into bricks in order to protect the ozone layer. Additionally, in order to fully mitigate flooding, the Sierra Plasti Bricks also come with a sensor that will be installed in the flood walls which will indicate when the floodwaters are rising to fully get the job done.

She said that the secret to their success is that, unlike their rivals, their flood walls have sensors that can detect floods. The judges questioned how the sensor will be developed since they were worried about its development. The team informed the judges that they will unquestionably be the ones to construct the sensors but also acknowledged that they are still in the perfect stage and are trying to select which type of sensor they will use. They provided information on the many types of sensors. The judges then recommended the team conduct a thorough investigation into their concept because it has numerous technological and intellectual ramifications.

The problem they saw was how different dumpsites are polluting the surroundings as most of these dump sites burn down the waste transported to their sites. They also noticed that this waste can be raw materials for people who are in the circular industry, so they decided to find a solution. The sixth pitcher was Mr. Fallah Mackay Lengor, who represented the Action for Safer environment non-government organization (Clean city waste).

Sorting waste and distributing it to various recycling businesses would assist them to obtain the raw materials they need to make additional products for the country’s consumption. Additionally, this will lessen the environmental damage that burning waste has on the environment. Since there are no official organizations dedicated to the said enterprise, their best option is to supply refuge, sort waste, and distribute waste to their required recycling companies.

According to the OCHA 2015b report, 80% of Sierra Leone’s waste can be recycled, therefore with their notion of sorting and distributing waste, Sierra Leone can make the most of every waste rather than allowing waste to create flooding and other problems. Their plan will work by collecting rubbish from dumps, classifying it into distinct categories including plastic, metal, and coconut shells, among others, and then selling it to recycling businesses for a small price.

They will keep a cost-effective supply chain. Because they will sort before distribution, recycling companies can acquire the exact amount of material they require without having to go through any additional sorting procedures. After his presentation, the judges questioned the team about how they intended to maintain their waste management strategy so that they could not be easily imitated by upcoming rivals. In other words, the judges were trying to find out what might prevent other businesses from doing what the team was planning to do.

Mr. Fallah responded that they are not afraid of competition because it will motivate them to work harder and that they do not believe that they will be matched by rivals in the future because they were the first to start a waste sorting and distribution business, giving them an advantage over rivals in the future because they will become more inventive over time.

Hawah Siaffa-Siakka from Climate action for women and youth development was the penultimate pitcher. She made the decision to pursue green farming practices after watching her father lose a lot of money in agriculture because he lacked the necessary knowledge. She conducted a survey after that and discovered that most farmers lack training, particularly in the application of fertilizers, which prevents them from producing many crops. By using open data kits (ODK) to send information on the ground and data back and forth, such as weather patterns, fertilizer use, climate adaption, and general farming information, her approach is to provide smart knowledge in agriculture. Ms. Hawah provided the essential information to the interviewer after being questioned about her customer base and the channels she utilizes to inform her go-to-market about her designs to the judges.

The final hurler of the evening According to Christiana Martha Lappia of Chris and Co Tech Ltd, the main issue they saw was the high rate of CO2 emission in the atmosphere, which is mostly brought on by industry manufacturing plants and leads to ill health and water contamination as well as global warming. Their approach is to provide a catalytic converter that transforms smoke from chimneys into steam or water vaporizer, which helps to prevent global warming. Their device adds value by converting waste carbon monoxide into steam and absorbing it, which helps to mitigate global warming and protects workers from respiratory illnesses.

Miss Christian went on to say that their plan will create a safe working environment, make a significant contribution to environmental protection, and promote high standards of health. 

Miss Christian responded that she and her team would first obtain Clarence from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and partner with factories and other companies that would be using their products in response to the judges’ initial question about how she and her team intended to acquire customers since their market target was large factories and construction companies.

The event continued with a Q&A session that was expertly moderated by the host after the judges had dismissed the audience for making their final choice. The audience had the chance to interrogate the pitchers during this session about their companies and their goods. The fact that the pitchers had the chance to pitch their products to the audience and explain their presentations made this session extremely interactive.

The top five pitchers who were able to persuade the judges of the significance and influence of their products were announced after a brief break by the judges. The winners were Christiana Lebbie, Fatmata.F. Conteh, Mr. Tommy Sowa, Fallah Mackay Lengor, and Christiana Martha Lappia, in that order. 

In recognition of their dedication and support, the judges received presents in addition to diplomas for the winners. 

The CEO/MD Mr. Francis George Williams gave a very brief closing courtesy to everyone in attendance, especially the judges and Turtle Team, to express his gratitude for helping the event to be a huge success because it was held in a welcoming and educational environment.


Reported by: Francess Beresford Renner

 Edited by: Lamarana Bah